CASE REPORTS OF THE MORMON ALLIANCE
VOLUME 1, 1995
OFFICIAL STATEMENTS BY GENERAL
AUTHORITIES IN GENERAL CONFERENCE
Endnotes for Chapter 1
Next to scripture, the strongest guidelines for the
lives of Latter-day Saints are statements by General Authorities made in
general conference. This chapter reports:
- Statements made by General Authorities in conference.
- The current unsatisfactory status of Utah’s Division of Family
- One example of an unsatisfactory Church representative on a
government entity dealing with child abuse.
General Authorities have strongly and unequivocally
denounced the physical and sexual abuse of children, but they have not
been equally strong in suggesting courses of action for either victims
or their supporters to take.
Gordon B. Hinckley, addressing the priesthood session
of the April 1985 general conference, made the lengthiest statement, to
date, in that setting against child abuse:
There appears to be a plague of child abuse
spreading across the world. Perhaps it has always been with us but has
not received the attention it presently receives. I am glad there is a
hue and cry going up against this terrible evil, too much of which is
found among our own. Fathers, you cannot abuse your little ones
without offending God. Any man involved in an incestuous relationship
is unworthy to hold the priesthood. He is unworthy to hold membership
in the Church and should be dealt with accordingly. Any man who beats
or in other ways abuses his children will be held accountable before
the great judge of us all. If there be any within the sound of my
voice who are guilty of such practices, let them repent forthwith,
make amends where possible, develop within themselves that discipline
which can curb such evil practices, plead with the Lord for
forgiveness, and resolve within their hearts henceforth to walk with
Although no one can mistake the abhorrence with which
President Hinckley regards sexual and physical abuse or the clear
implications about an incestuous male’s unworthiness to be a
priesthood holder or member of the Church, this statement focuses
exclusively on the perpetrator. it offers no comfort sympathy, or
support for victims. Ironically, despite its negative attention to the
perpetrator, it does not give realistic advice on how the offender can
"develop ... discipline." Most child abusers cannot simply
"stop" without direct, long-term, and professional
intervention. Will power is not enough. Furthermore, in addressing only
the perpetrator, this statement also has no counsel for either the
survivor of abuse or the survivor’s support people—such as a mother,
a sibling, or a friend. It also does not directly address the
responsibility of ecclesiastical officers to intervene to protect
children. It does not validate victims in seeking help or strongly
encourage others to intervene on behalf of the victims.
At April 1991 general conference, Elder Dallin H.
Oaks, in an address on honoring parents, quoted Col. 3:20: "‘Children,
obey your parents in all things"’ and added "I believe he
meant all righteous things," a welcome though muted
recognition of the problem of child sexual abuse.2
President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the
First Presidency, speaking in the Sunday morning session of October 1991
Some children witness their fathers savagely
beating their mothers, while others are on the receiving end of such
abuse. What cowardice, what depravity, what shame!
Local hospitals everywhere receive these little
ones, bruised and battered, accompanied by bald-faced lies that the
child "ran into the door" or fell down the stairs."
Liars, bullies who abuse children, they will one day reap the
whirlwind of their foul deeds. The quiet, the hurt, the offended child
victim of abuse, and at times incest, must receive help.... [He here
quoted the statement of a judge about the seriousness of child abuse.]
The Church does not condone such heinous and vile
conduct. Rather, we condemn in the harshest of terms such treatment of
God’s precious children. Let the child be rescued, nurtured, loved,
and healed. Let the offender be brought to justice, to accountability,
for his actions and receive professional treatment to curtail such
wicked and devilish conduct. When you and I know of such conduct and
fail to take action to eradicate it, we become part of the problem. We
share part of the guilt. We experience part of the punishment.
I trust I have not spoken too harshly, but I love
these little ones.
Once again, while denouncing the sinful behavior in
strong language and expressing disgust for perpetrators and support for
victims, President Monson does not give instructions about how those
children must be helped. He has no specific message to bishops, parents,
or to the survivors. He does not advocate the use of community
resources, counseling, strict standards of reporting, becoming
knowledgeable about local laws, or networking within the community. In
fact, his use of the passive voice ("Let the child be rescued ...
Let the offender be brought to justice ... ) makes no one responsible
for rescuing, no one responsible for bringing the offender to justice.
"Taking action to eradicate" sounds specific but actually is
At the very next general conference, the need for
more specific guidelines and also for direct counsel to survivors was
met by Apostle Richard G. Scott.4
Unfortunately, the results were, to put it mildly, mixed. To Elder Scott’s
credit, he acknowledged the "serious, enduring consequences"
that can result from abuse, including "fear, depression, guilt,
self-hatred, destruction of self-esteem, ... alienation from normal
human relationships, ... rebellion, anger, ... hatred, ... drug abuse,
immorality, abandonment of home … suicide, ... despondent lives,
discordant marriages, ... the transition from victim to abuser, ...
[and] a deepening lack of trust in others." He clearly labeled
abuse "another’s unrighteous attack on your freedom" and
reassured: "Your Heavenly Father does not want you to be held
captive by unrighteous influence, by threats of reprisal, or by fear of
repercussion to the family member who abuses you ... When another’s
acts of violence, perversion, or incest hurt you terribly, against your
will, you are not responsible and you must not feel guilty." He
acknowledged, "To be counseled to just forget abuse is not helpful.
You need to understand the principles which will bring healing."
He then instructed survivors (whom he addressed
throughout as "victims") that "the wicked choice of
others cannot completely destroy your agency unless you permit it ....
You are free to determine to overcome the harmful results of
abuse." The first avenue of help should be the bishop who "can
provide a doctrinal foundation to guide you to recovery ... He has the
right to be inspired of the Lord in your behalf. He can use the
priesthood to bless you, ... help you identify trustworthy friends …
[and] help you identify appropriate protection and professional
treatment consistent with the teachings of the Savior."
He next listed several "principles of
healing": "Recognize that ... Heavenly Father ... can help you
as no earthly parent, spouse, or devoted friend can. ... [Ponder] the
scriptures. ... When you permit it, the love of the Savior will soften
your heart, break the cycle of abuse that can transform a victim into an
aggressor. ... Do not waste effort in revenge or retribution. ... Leave
the handling of the offender to civil and Church authorities. Whatever
they do, eventually, the guilty will face the Perfect Judge."
He also counseled survivors to work toward forgiving
the perpetrator beginning by "withholding judgment. You don’t
know what abusers may have suffered as victims when innocent. The way to
repentance must be kept open for them."
The two most controversial parts of his talk were
criticized as revictimizing the victim and as making ill-advised
evaluations of therapeutic interventions:
The victim must do all
in his or her power to stop the abuse. Most often, the victim is
innocent because of being disabled by fear or the power or authority
of the offender. At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a
victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your
priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if
needed, it can be addressed. Otherwise, the seeds of guilt will remain
and sprout into bitter fruit Yet no matter what degree of
responsibility, from absolutely none to increasing consent, the
healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ can provide a complete
cure. Forgiveness can be obtained for all involved in abuse. ...
I caution you not to participate in two improper
therapeutic practices that may cause you more harm than good. They
are: Excessive probing into every minute detail of your past
experiences, particularly when this involves penetrating dialogue in
group discussion; and blaming the abuser for every difficulty in your
While some discovery is vital to the healing
process, the almost morbid probing into details of past acts, long
buried and mercifully forgotten, can be shattering. There is no need
to pick at healing wounds to open them and cause them to fester. The
Lord and his teachings can help you without destroying self-respect.
There is another danger. Detailed leading questions
that probe your past may unwittingly trigger thoughts that are more
imagination or fantasy than reality. They could lead to condemnation
of another for acts that were not committed. While likely few in
number, I know of cases where such therapy has caused great injustice
to the innocent from unwittingly stimulated accusation that were later
proven false. Memory, particularly adult memory of childhood
experiences, is fallible. Remember, false accusation is also a sin.
The repair of damage inflicted by abuse should be
done privately, confidentially, with a trusted priesthood leader and,
where needed, the qualified professional he recommends. There must be
sufficient discussion of the general nature of abuse to allow you to
be given appropriate counsel and to prevent the aggressor from
committing more violence. Then, with the help of the Lord, bury the
Should ugly thoughts of past abuse come back,
remember [the Savior’s] love and his healing power. Your depression
will be converted to peace and assurance.
Elder Scott’s talk
epitomizes the basic problem in the Church hierarchy’s attitude. While
he sincerely offers sympathy for victims and condemns the crime, at the
same time he displays ignorance of the basic dynamics of child abuse and
its trauma and of the healing process; he revictimizes survivors. It is
not possible for a child in any way to be responsible for stopping child
abuse. By definition, child abuse implies a power differential of such
magnitude that, even if the child somehow initiated the abuse, the
responsibility rests on the perpetrator, upon the adult. This is the
position consistently taken in legal cases, and it is also borne out by
research and therapy. Shame and guilt universally accompany the trauma
for the child. Always the child asks, "Why didn’t I stop it? Why
didn’t I tell?" By asking these questions from the pulpit, Scott
subtly revictimizes the child.
Marion Burrows Smith, a therapist specializing in
child sexual abuse commented on Elder Scott’s address: "Scott
does not understand the therapeutic process as validated in tens of
thousands of cases of child sexual abuse. He cannot presume to use
metaphors about scratching a wound when in fact the victim may need to
scratch it countless times and may experience a continual bleeding. A
nonprofessional unacquainted with an individual case cannot presume to
dictate what the therapy process should be, who is the best therapist
for the individual, and certainly not how forgiveness can ultimately be
achieved. Scott demands a stance of forgiveness regardless of whether
the perpetrator even acknowledges the crime and regardless of whether
the victim has begun to heal. Such attitudes often make survivors leave
the Church and never seek further dialogue with Church leaders." 5
Given the built-in problems with Elder Scott’s
approach, it is indeed regrettable that General Authorities supply abuse
survivors who write to them for help with copies of this talk, which
they commend as "wise counsel." (See Chapter
16, "Disciplinary Councils and Appeals: Summer 1994.")
At October 1994 general conference, President Gordon
B. Hinckley described and deplored the many ways in which children
suffer, including starvation, war, unwed pregnancy, and poverty. Then he
Then there is the terrible, inexcusable, and evil
phenomenon of physical and sexual abuse.
It is unnecessary. It is unjustified. It is
In terms of physical abuse, I have never accepted
the principle of "spare the rod and spoil the child." I will
be forever grateful for a father who never laid a hand in anger upon
his children. Somehow he had the wonderful talent to let them know
what was expected of them and to give them encouragement in achieving
I am persuaded that violent fathers produce violent
sons. I am satisfied that such punishment in most instances does more
damage than good. Children don’t need beating. They need love and
encouragement. They need fathers to whom they can look with respect
rather than fear. Above all, they need examples....
And then there is the terrible, vicious practice of
sexual abuse. It is beyond understanding. It is an affront to the
decency that ought to exist in every man and woman. It is a violation
of that which is sacred and divine. It is destructive in the lives of
children. It is reprehensible and worthy of the most severe
Shame on any man or woman who would sexually abuse
a child. In doing so, the abuser not only does the most serious kind
of injury. He or she also stands condemned before the Lord. ...
If there be any within the sound of my voice who
may be guilty of such [a] practice, I urge you with all of the
capacity of which I am capable to stop it, to run from it, to get
help, to plead with the Lord for forgiveness and make amends to those
whom you have offended.
Again, this statement leaves the offender without
excuse, but the counsel to "stop it" does not realistically
account for the fact that most child abusers simply cannot
"stop" without direct, long-term, and professional
intervention. According to one national organization, "during their
life time, each pedophile tends to abuse an average [of] 265 victims. Of
the 265 victims, 50% will become potential offenders."7
Again, President Hinckley’s statement omits from its audience the
survivor of abuse, ecclesiastical officers dealing with cases of abuse,
or the family and friends of abuse survivors. Particularly conspicuous
by its omission is a statement about the responsibility of
ecclesiastical officers to intervene to protect children.
Although there is no necessary connection between the
Church’s approach of "sympathy for the victim" but lack of
clear guidelines on protection, self-defense, and intervention and Utah’s
programs to deal with the problem of child sexual abuse, it is possible
that Utah officials also share the limitations of President Hinckley’s
perspective. In Utah, juvenile sexual offenders are receiving, for the
most part, inadequate help in identifying healthier ways of behaving.
The whereabouts of a whopping 45 percent of convicted juvenile sexual
offenders is unknown; 25 percent are on probation, 20 percent are under
the supervision of the Division of Family Services, a group that has
been under official censure in the state for five years for its record
of ineffectiveness, and 10 percent are jailed with the Division of Youth
Corrections. Forty-three percent of the reported 2,282 Utah juveniles
who were sexually abused in 1993 were assaulted by other juveniles, and
an estimated 70 percent of sex offenses committed by juveniles are never
reported. Between 1973 and 1994, the rate of sexual assaults by
juveniles in Utah tripled; 77 percent of Utah’s juvenile sex offenders
are between thirteen and eighteen, 20 percent are between nine and
twelve, and the remaining 3 percent are children eight and under.
Seventy-four percent of the "most serious crimes committed by
juveniles against people are first and second degree felony sex
offense." The recidivism rate of juveniles who receive treatment is
about 13 percent; the rate for adult sex offenders who receive treatment
in "secure facilities" is between 50 and 75 percent.8
In a surprise move in the closing moments of the 1995
legislative season, Utah’s legislature revoked mandatory sentences for
convicted child abusers. Warren S. Parkin, in a letter to the editor,
sharply criticized "Gov. Mike Leavitt and the manly imbeciles who
‘represent’ Utah in the Righteouslature" for "their belief
that confession rehabilitates the soul. . . . It is shameful that with
all the political posturing about ‘family values’ and self-serving
talk about getting tough on crime, Utah would decide to advertise itself
as a haven for sexual offenders."9
This decision seems particularly ironic in light of legislation
submitted to Congress in May 1996 to provide nation-wide mandatory
sentencing for child abuse.
Utah’s Division of Family Services has been
repeatedly cited for unprofessional practices, including returning
children at risk to abusive homes; it lost a major lawsuit in 1993 to
the National Center for Youth Law, which was representing children in
the system. In the spring of 1996, it was charged with waiting three
weeks to act after a teacher reported that a six-year-old child’s
father was molesting her and burning her with cigarettes. It is still
answering questions about double sets of records, unconventional
practices, and audits that severely criticize its policies including the
report of a monitoring panel that found it out of compliance with the
legal agreement reached in 1994. Meanwhile, the legislature, in 1995,
eliminated a grievance council on which the National Center would be
represented, and the attorney general has hired outside counsel with a
maximum price tag of $350,000 to represent Utah in a reopening of the
case. An editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune lamented,
"Beneath the piles of statistics and audits are suffering
children.. . . It is [their] cry that the adults, all of them, must
An unanswered and perhaps
unanswerable question is the degree to which Utah’s Mormon culture and
the overwhelmingly Mormon majority of lawmakers impact public policy in
the area of family functioning and child abuse. In at least one
documentable instance in which the Church was invited to have
representation in such issues, the person selected seems not to have
been well chosen as a child advocate, whatever his other abilities.
Governor Norman Bangerter responded to double-digit leaps in reported
cases of child sexual abuse by appointing a blue-ribbon committee in
1992 to report on the problem and suggest possible action for the Utah
legislature. To represent a broad spectrum of community interests, the
governor’s office asked for a representative from the LDS Church. B.
Lloyd Poelman, then a named partner in the law firm of Kirton, McConkie
and Poelman that represents the Church in many legal cases, was
appointed. Ronald E. Poelman, Lloyd’s brother, is a General Authority,
a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, which is ranked second to
the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Nicholas G. Smith, who attended meetings of the task
force over the next several months, stated: "Poelman always seemed
to have his own agenda. He definitely was not an advocate for abused
children. Rather, he manifested particular solicitude for the interests
of large organizations whose agents might be perpetrating against
More serious questions about Poelman’s commitment
to the moral protection of children surfaced two years later. On 2
August 1994, the Salt Lake Tribune’s police column reported:
Salt Lake City attorney Bryan Lloyd Poelman pleaded
guilty Monday to patronizing a prostitute, a class C misdemeanor.
Poelman, 60, is an LDS stake president [Monument Park North Stake in
Salt Lake City] and a partner in the law firm of Kirton, McConkie,
& Poelman. He was arrested at 12:30 PM [actually AM] on July 16 at
2100 S. State. An undercover officer saw Poelman pick up a woman who
appeared to be a prostitute, according to a police report When Poelman’s
car stopped, the officer sneaked up and observed Poelman and the woman
engaging in oral sex.
The prostitute, who was paid $30 for her services,
was jailed while Poelman, who had at first tried to deny to the police
officer that he had purchased sex, was released to return home. Kevin
Watkins, city attorney for South Salt Lake, read the deputy sheriffs
citation and report on the Poelman case. Poelman was Watkins’s stake
president. He had heard nothing about the incident either in the stake
or among legal circles, suggesting that Poelman had not confessed or
reported, as was his ethical and moral obligation. After struggling with
his own ethical dilemma for two days, Watkins called the Regional
Representative, Poelman’s immediate ecclesiastical superior, and filed
a formal complaint with the Utah Bar Association.13
At a special conference of Monument Park North Stake
on 14 August, Lloyd Poelman was released. He bore his testimony, hoped
that "anyone I have offended will forgive me," and commented
that "my family has had struggles. These have been too
public." Elder Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of
the Twelve, presided over the conference, cautioned members of the stake
not to talk about the stake’s "family" matters, and assured
the stake members, "I felt relieved about President and Sister
Poelman. Whatever else will take place, there will be no eternal
consequences. Elder John E. Fowler, area president and member of the
Second Quorum of the Seventy, stated that he had "explicit
trust" in Elder Packer and testified that "that which has
occurred in this reorganization is precisely what the Lord would have
done if he were here. "14
Poelman was excommunicated later that day. Although his name has been
removed as a partner in the law firm (now Kirton & McConkie), he is
still employed in this firm which still transacts much of the Church’s
On 31 August 1994, Poelman withdrew his guilty plea
to patronizing a prostitute "in an apparent attempt to avoid a
criminal record," Before the scheduled trial on 5 December, he
"avoided news-media attention by quietly pleading guilty to the
class B misdemeanor charge [of patronizing a prostitute]" some time
in October 1994. He was fined $750, ordered to complete a counseling
program, provide 20 hours of free legal work to the community, and
ordered to undergo an AIDS test. In exchange for Poelman’s pleas of
guilty as charged, the plea will be held in abeyance for one year. If he
has no similar violations within that time, "the charge will be
dismissed." An investigation by the Utah State Bar "is still
in the informal stages," according to assistant disciplinary
counsel Alan Barber.15 No
information has been publicly available since that time.
Poelman chaired "the now-defunct Citizens for
Positive Community Values," a group begun about ten years ago
"with pornography as a major issue." The news report did not
say when the group became defunct. According to former member Darlene
Hutchison, Poelman "‘had to habitually view videos to make
decisions. It probably led to his downfall."’ She suggested that
"sexual addiction is a real risk of viewing such material and she
likened Poelman to ‘a general killed in the field. ... Sometimes those
leading the fight fall victim. He may have saved others from the same
fate."’ Poelman was also the cochairman of the Statewide Task
Force on Child Sexual Abuse, until it was dissolved two years ago.16
One might reasonably entertain some question about whether children
benefit from Poelman as a spokesman for LDS family values in such
Notes for Chapter 1: (Click the Back
Button to return to the note reference.)
Gordon B. Hinckley, "To Please Our Heavenly Father," Ensign,
May 1983, 50.
Dallin H. Oaks, "‘Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother,"’ Ensign,
May 1991, 14-17.
Thomas S. Monson, "Precious Children—A Gift from God," Ensign
November 1991, 69.
Richard G. Scott, "Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse," Ensign,
May 1992, 31-33.
5 Marion Burrows
Smith, Letter to Lavina Fielding Anderson, 5 December 1994.
6 Gordon B.
Hinckley, "Save the Children," Ensign, November 1994,
"The Linkup: Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse," (introductory
brochure and membership form), nd., n.p.
Nancy Hobbs, "Kids and Sex: A Formula for Abuse," Salt Lake
Tribune, 9 Jan. 1995, D-1, D-5.
Warren S. Parkin, "Haven for Molesters," Salt Lake Tribune,
31 March 1995, A-20.
"The Cry of a Child" (editorial), Salt Lake Tribune, 23
April 1996, A-10; Samuel A. Autman, "Judge Issues Gag Order in DFS,
Child-Molestation Case," Salt Lake Tribune, 6 April 1996,
Nicholas C. Smith, Typed statement for Lavina Fielding Anderson, 13
"For the Record: Lawyer Guilty in Sex Case," Salt Lake
Tribune, 2 August 1994, C-4.
Mike Carter, "Lawyer Has Sleepless Nights over Solicitation Arrest
of Friend, LDS Leader," Salt Lake Tribune, D-1, D-2.
Drafted from handwritten notes made by Paul and Margaret Toscano, who
attended the meeting; typed on August 28, 1994.
"For the Record: Sex Plea Withdrawn," Salt Lake Tribune, 31
August 1994, B4; Stephen Hunt, "Lawyer Pleads Guilty in
Prostitution Case," Salt Lake Tribune, 3 December 1994, B-3.
Stephen Hunt, "Lawyer Pleads Guilty in Prostitution Case," Salt
Lake Tribune, 3 December 1994, B-3.